Wales players under pressure after opening Six Nations defeat

Wales take on France in Paris this weekend

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The Independent Online

Several Wales players will be sweating on selection during the next 24 hours as interim head coach Rob Howley finalises his team for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash against France in Paris.

Prop Gethin Jenkins, hooker Matthew Rees and even skipper Sam Warburton could be among those who come under close scrutiny following last weekend's tournament-opening home loss to Ireland.

And while Howley is ultimately unlikely to make sweeping changes - the back division looks set to remain intact - players such as Paul James, Richard Hibbard and Justin Tipuric have strong claims up-front.

"When you don't play as well as you can play you come under pressure, because there are good individuals underneath you who want that jersey," Wales assistant coach Mark Jones said in a general observation.

"Pressure is part of this sport, part of your job.

"Player selection is down to form and injury. Ours, for the first game, was predominantly around who we had available.

"In top-level sport there's not much in it. It's about getting the last two or three per cent right on the day and, if you do that, more often than not you will come out on the winning side.

"I know it's a cliche, but all we can focus on is the next game. That has been the strength of this group the last three or four years and, more often than not, we have been successful.

"Do we give the players an opportunity to go out and redeem themselves or do we try and freshen things up and bring some fresh blood in?

"Those are the type of things coaches have got to make decisions on. They are not easy ones, to be honest with you."

Jones has described the reigning Six Nations champions as a "wounded animal" as they build towards Saturday's encounter.

If Wales lose to Les Bleus at Stade de France then all realistic hopes of silverware will disappear, given that Ireland or England - who meet in Dublin on Sunday - will be four points above them with three games left.

Wales have only suffered two defeats at the start of a Six Nations campaign on three previous occasions, and each season they failed to secure a top-four finish.

"When we get our game right, we are very formidable. We are the wounded animal this weekend and are looking to really kick on from our second-half performance against Ireland," Jones added.

"There is huge disappointment and frustration that we didn't start the (Ireland) game as we finished it.

"Ireland started well, but there was just too much error in our game. I think the issue we had was in terms of accuracy holding on to the ball.

"If you don't hold on to it you can't put defences under any sustained pressure and, therefore, you don't create the intensity you want. The players have accepted that and fully understand why."